Fashion's "New Look" Comes to Hardin County
By Renée Hart Wells
Hometown changes at the end of World War II were apparent to children in Kountze. There was, of course, the joyful homecoming of friends and relatives from the war. Also, the red and blue ration stamp books could be put away as keepsakes for the amazement of another generation. Items like sugar and meat that had been rationed because of the war effort were available again and store shelves were filled with groceries. The meatless meals that we were told helped to defeat the enemy soon became just a memory. Even Milky Way bars and Fleers Double Bubble chewing gum appeared again in the candy cases at Langston's Grocery, R.C.'s café and Pop Mabrey's news stand. Car owners now had gas and tires for a ten-mile ride to the Honey Island Swimming Pool or even a thirty- mile trip all the way to Beaumont.
Frugal habits were slow to die, however, and our mothers continued to "make do" even when Paris designer Christian Dior's "New Look," the fashion sensation of 1947,was featured in McCalls magazine and movie newsreels. Instead of the teenagers' short, jitterbug skirts and women's knee-length dresses, fashion now dictated that hemlines go down to mid-calf length. Our teachers were perhaps the first in town to address this serious situation. Since they already had their wardrobes of skirts and dresses, it would be wasteful and expensive to replace them. Their answer was a practical, small-town solution. They would dress in style by simply sewing a band of material at the bottom of each garment to make it the right length.
There must have been an abundance of black cotton in town, for that seems to have been the choice for the hemline extensions. One fashion-conscious teacher appeared at school in her tailored, gray plaid dress, adorned with a new six-inch black band at the hem. Other teachers soon followed. No one, especially not a student, dared to comment on the new length. I'll never forget the day when a favorite teacher appeared in her familiar raspberry pink suit with an unexpected wide black addition at the hem. Somehow the pink suit just wasn't that pretty anymore. For a time it seemed that every woman on campus was fitted out like a kind of black-band sorority.
Although we soon stopped noticing our teachers' nods to the dictates of fashion, all that changed when a young, right-out-of-college teacher was hired for fifth grade. Most of the fifth-grade girls gathered at the fence stile near the old stucco elementary building to greet our brand-new teacher. We breathed a sigh of admiration when Miss Betty Emily stepped out of her Kaiser Frazier automobile, the first one in Kountze. What an attractive picture she made in her "New Look" dress with its full skirt--- a solid navy blue from her tiny waist down to her mid-calf hem!
Eventually our teachers replaced their banded skirts and dresses with the new fashion length. Knowing nothing of Christian Dior, we children thought that maybe the pretty young teacher had something to do with the disappearance of the black bands.